When officials from The Telangana Minority Residential Educational Institutions Society (TMREIS)* met Philip O’Brien and Lynne Lawrence, Uma Ramani (primary trainer), Helen Mohan Elias and Moiza Rafath (both from MTRT), during the fifth EsF assembly in Hyderabad, their request was to bring high-quality education to the children. Following a number of meetings, TMREIS committed to bringing Montessori principles to all of the residential campuses and to Montessori Elementary programmes in a few campuses as a start.

In August 2017,TMREIS adopted one of the state-run orphanages which had over one hundred children between the age group of 3 to 14. Children above 10 years were sent to the residential schools. Children below 10 years were kept in one of the Hyderabad branches and MTRT was asked to set up a Montessori Environment for the children. We readily agreed to this heaven-sent opportunity and set up the environment in two days time with whatever material was available across the counter. The environment was inaugurated by the President of the TMREIS former Police Commissioner, Mr. A K Khan, IPS along with the other officials on 28th August 2017.


The Start

The children were brought to the school a day before the inauguration. They were in a very bad condition. They were malnourished and unwashed.They had skin lesions. They were unruly.  They were first given haircuts and bathed and provided new clothes. On the day of the inauguration which was the next day, they were given new uniforms and shoes. The children were very excited as they had never worn new clothes or shoes before.

What caught my attention was that amidst all the chaos of the inauguration with people from the media and the government officials exchanging garlands, felicitating each other with shawls and flowers and posing for pictures, nothing mattered to the children; they were in their own world fascinated by the material -the newly set up Montessori material. One part of me was crying for the way the material was being handled, but fortunately, the other part of me was able to recognize that these children were hungry for work. They did not mean to damage the material. It was the material that caught their attention, the media did not attract them, big people did not attract them, beautifully painted walls did not attract them.The moment the room was opened the children pounced on the material as if it was a life and death situation for them. Some of us, who were Montessori trained, immediately started showing them how to handle the material and how to work with it, only to discover that the children were not ready to listen.

Things were not easy as we worked to set up the daily routines and activities. Nobody wanted to work with these children- in a week’s time two teachers (one Montessori trained and the other a post graduate) and three helpers left. 

 The children had no order, no manners, and no discipline. They were not ready to follow instructions. They were very loud, verbally and physically. Their language and behavior was beyond anybody’s control. It was common for them to use abusive language and beat each other. One day one boy beat another boy very badly, I took them aside and said, “So sad you hurt him very badly, it must be paining” … even before I could complete what I was saying, the child who received the beating said, “No it is not paining at all.” At that moment, I realized how even pain is accepted if it has been a part of a child’s life all the time. They had no feelings for each other’s hurt and pain. Beating and being beaten up was their lifestyle.


The Work

Montessori’s first house of children was what glared at me, it was the same situation. Our strength was the outcome of the first Casa dei Bambini in San Lorenzo. Work therapy was the only solution. I set to work, to introduce the materials to the children, to set clear boundaries and hold high expectations with the help of two teachers (not Montessori trained) who were willing to work with the children and two helpers, one each for the girls’ and the boys’ dormitories. 

Work, work and only work is what the children did, after that; more material, more presentations, more visitors, and a balanced diet. The children began to develop a sense of trust and a feeling of security. 

Except for a few children, most of them know numbers and the letters of the alphabet in English. Working with the material is only a confirmation to them (and to us) that the children already know the letter names and numbers. The best part was that,working with the material was helping them calm down, it was helping them shed unwanted movements; handling the material with care has brought about sense of care, love and responsibility for things around.

These children never had any ground rules or order in their lives before. In the initial days, they would not listen to any instructions given and end up doing whatever they wanted to do. It looked as if they had decided not to respect or listen to the teachers.The constant complaint of the teachers was that “they don’t listen to us - they behave as if they are deaf”.Now, after two months, the children look much calmer, they are able to follow instruction to an extent and are ready to take presentations. Initially the urge was to touch the material, manipulate them and play with them in whatever possible way; but, now, the children seem to have understood that manipulating the material in a particular way showed interesting results. Initially, the urge was only to work but now the urge to learn is also experienced in most of the children.



On 11th November 2017, TMREIS organized, for the first time, an annual meet of the 204 schools established over the last two years. It was a big event with massive arrangements at the Lal Bahadur stadium in Hyderabad.The older children from grade 5, 6, 7 and 8 showcased their talents in the guard of honor, march past, mass drill and band. Awards were given to the children for achievements in various sports events.

The new additions to the organization were the orphans who are now called Montessori children. They were asked to show their work with the material. The Chief Minister (CM) of Telangana Sri K. Chandrashekhar Rao wanted to personally interact with the children about their work. 

The children are just now beginning to settle, they are coming to terms with the new rules/ order of sleeping on a cot with mattress, going through a hygienic regime of brushing their teeth and having bath daily with great difficulty. They are getting 4 meals a day with balanced diet. Their food consumption is huge, probably because they got food once in a while so they eat endlessly.  Now slowly, with the guarantee of the next meal, the exuberant eating style and the quantity has come down. Academic graph has not begun as yet and so I was deeply worried that the CM would not get good feedback for his academic questions from the children. What if he said that Montessori does not work? I was praying that he did not come and needless to say my prayer was answered. The CM did not come, because of sudden change of plans for reasons unknown. Except for me, the whole congregation was disappointed, including the children. For the children the Chief Minister is akin to God; they think of him more often than they would of anybody else.

We set up a mock environment for the children and I invited a couple of other Montessorians to be on hand to explain the method and principles. The program was graced by the Deputy CM, Home Minister, Education Minister and various other officials. The classroom set up for the Montessori children was viewed with awe. Some of the officials, Principals of the schools, teachers, parents and children came to see something that looked different. The material, the setup and the children attracted a lot of crowd. They looked at them like exhibits. Children worked with English, Hindi and Urdu movable alphabet. Some worked with geometry solids, pink cubes, cylinder blocks, addition strip board, multiplications and division board to name a few activities.

To my surprise, people were able to see the change in the children. The secretary of TMREIS, Mr. Shafiuallh, said that there was 360-degree change in the children. Some people said that they did not look like the same children that they had seen on the day of the inauguration. They could not believe that they were orphans and that they could sit in one place and work with the material. The children and us received royal treatment, like celebrities. This gave me assurance that there was noticeable change in the children.

This is just the beginning…. MTRT has worked to bring Elementary trainer Greg McDonald to Hyderabad.  TMREIS will be sponsoring several teachers to this training.  We are also building a short training to introduce Montessori principles to other adults. In his workshop conducted by MTRT on the 4th of November 2017, Greg said that just as physical fracture of the bone has to be identified, fixed and allowed to heal, the psychical fractures and hurt of these children have to be identified and treated and allowed time to heal. With this understanding and the faith in the method we continue to work on the healing process. 


 *TMREIS was established in 2015, with the aim of providing high quality education for children from minority communities. It is an autonomous organization that establishes and manages residential schools serving children in the 5th grade and up. It is envisioned that there will be one residential school in each constituency of the state. In August 2016, TMREIS had started 71 schools with plans to add more in the coming year. In June 2017, the society has successfully launched 204 schools. Today, these schools are serving 39,000 children in Telangana.